As my feet sank deeper into the squelchy undergrowth, the confronting pong that emitted from this particular checkpoint ensured I very nearly saw my oat-based breakfast again. Was the smell courtesy of serial backpacker murderer Ivan Millat? Was there in fact an unfortunate and undiscovered German called Klaus decomposing two feet below us in a shallow grave?

I’ll explain.

The story of Ivan Milat’s ‘Wolf Creek’ esque rampage in the 1990s is nothing short of harrowing. Essentially he would pick up backpackers from bars in Sydney and drive them 2.5 hours south to Belanglo State Forest to torture, kill and bury them. I’ve seen Germany beat England in football enough to warrant (at worst) mild aggression, but this was taking the biscuit. In 2012 Millat’s great nephew carried out a copycat killing, hacking an unfortunate 17 year old to death with an axe in exactly the same forest. If those trees could speak…

hammock in belanglo

The reason for this background is that Belangalo forest is now the location for the Mountain Design’s Hard-core Adventure Race, an event myself and friends Turfey and Tom had ambitiously signed up for months before, yet had dismally failed to engage in any sort of training regime for. We’d also failed to do our homework on the location so spent the night tucked away in our mobile foetus’s (pictured above) suspended two feet above the pine forest floor blissfully unaware of it’s eerie past.

It was during registration the following morning that the course director gave us a look like we’d just shat in his teapot:

‘You camped in Belanglo State Forest? Are you bloody mad mate?’

tom around fire in belanglo

Anyway, I digress.

We’d entered our We are Explorer’s team into the adventure race alongside 60 other competitors; the goal to navigate a multitude of checkpoints scattered around the forest both on foot and mountain bike in the quickest possible time. Using a map, compass and a dash of wit, the idea is to pick the fastest route based on distances and terrain. Needless to say we were in trouble.

Tom had an impressive high speed wipeout whilst negotiating the sandy firetrails. My saddle decided to quite literally fall off my rental mountain bike halfway through the race (thank you to team 65 for rescuing us – I still have your Allen key!). As we bush-bashed over snake-riddled hills on a sweaty spring morning with bikes over our shoulders and no idea where we were going, it could have been easy to have a complete sense of humour failure.

But I have to say, I absolutely loved it.

The ménage a trois of wilderness, physical challenge and camaraderie combine together so beautifully in an adventure race; the competition and potential for prizes adding a little lube to the orgy.

There was plenty of impressive wildlife to distract our minds from the 15km run and 45km ride. Wombats thudded through the forest whilst colourful birds soared overhead in colourful song. A family of kangaroos bounded alongside us as we rode through the forest. Emu’s even call Belanglo home, and this is all less than two hours from Sydney!

Whether you’re blessed with an inbuilt GPS system and enjoy nothing more than hurtling through mountains with a map in hand, or if like me you just enjoy getting outdoors, getting lost and exploring NSW’s beauty in a more unique and challenging way with your pals (and getting fit in the process), adventure racing has something for everyone and more people should really give it a go. There are plenty to choose from around NSW throughout the year, but just make sure to do your research on potential backpacker slayers BEFORE your weekend adventure.

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